U.S. CONGRESSIONAL News:
WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Members of the Congressional Western Caucus released statements following signing of the Farm Bill into law by President Donald J. Trump:
Chief Defense and Interior Officer Chris Stewart (UT-02): “Westerners have cause to celebrate the signing of the Farm Bill. Not only did it provide certainty for our farmers, it included many of my priorities that will deliver much needed habitat restoration for sage grouse and mule deer. Restoring western landscapes while mitigating the risk of catastrophic wildfires is a win for everyone.”
Chief Rules Officer Dan Newhouse (WA-04): “Thank you, President Trump, for signing this critical legislation on behalf of Farm Country. The 2018 Farm Bill is a major accomplishment that gives Central Washington farmers and agriculture producers across the country much-needed certainty and a secure safety net.”
Vice Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-05): “We were able to make significant reforms improving a number of programs, notably the safety net for our dairy farmers our dairy program. Our dairy farmers have continued to face difficult times over the past decade and we look for the law to provide some much needed stability to the sector. Overall, this is a huge win for producers, rural communities, and American consumers.”
Rep. Ralph Abraham (LA-05): “The Farm Bill provides our farmers, ranchers and foresters with stability and the strong safety net that they need to plan for their futures. I’m proud of the work we did to get this bill over the finish line, and I’m glad it is now law.”
Rep. Ron Estes (KS-04): “It was an honor to join President Trump at the White House today as the Farm Bill was signed into law. This law, combined with new work requirements from the Secretary of Agriculture, will provide Kansas farmers and ranchers with needed certainty, make historic investments in rural broadband, and help get people back to work to grow our economy. With the Farm Bill complete, I look forward to continuing to work on new ways to support Kansas agriculture, particularly through free and fair trade deals.”
Rep. Steve King (IA-04): “I couldn’t be happier that President Trump is signing a Farm Bill into law today that meets the immediate needs of rural America. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I worked to ensure that this legislation would promote increased foreign trade, provide producers with predictability, support a FMD vaccine bank, preserve funding for biofuel programs, and strengthen rural broadband services. The Farm Bill we crafted accomplishes all of these good things and many more.”
Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-06): “I am proud President Trump joined Congress to put our nation’s farmers first. Today, the President signed into law important programs for our farmers, including my STRESS Act language, improved dairy risk management tools, funded programs to assist beginning farmers, and better improved livestock disease prevention and response mechanisms as part of this year’s Farm Bill. Finally, our farmer’s will get the support they deserve.”
On Thursday, December 20, 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed into law H.R. 2, the “Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018,” a bill introduced by Western Caucus Member Mike Conaway (TX-11).
A short Committee-drafted highlights page is here. Longer Committee summary here. Messaging & talking points here. Text vis the Conference Report can be found here.
The core of the package is the commodities title, Title I. Regardless of a Member’s ideological stance on subsidy, price guarantee and similar government interventions into a market, the fact remains that these programs, by longstanding Congressional direction, have become an entrenched part of the domestic agricultural market, without which the U.S. agricultural industry would suffer amazing losses. The resulting market voids would be filled by foreign competitors, providing them advantage while diminishing food quality and safety just as our nation’s farmers go out of business.
Similarly, program lapses and overall uncertainty have extremely detrimental effects on this industry, which is under additional pressures due to ongoing trade disputes.
Net farm income for 2018 is already projected to be at the lowest level since 2002, and a 50% drop has taken place over the last five years. This is the largest such drop since the Great Depression, per the House Committee on Agriculture.
On account of the relationship between the provisions of Title I and the U.S. agricultural industry, the prudent and responsible action for stability in U.S. food markets and the livelihoods of those in the agricultural industry can only be passage of the Farm Bill.
Title II, the conservation title, could be the strongest conservation title of any Farm Bill for Western Members. Increased funding proposals for the Environmental Quality Inceptives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) are contained in the Conference Report – all welcome fiscal adjustments to useful environmental and soil conservation programs. The Conservation Stewardship Program is restructured to provide better incentives for farmers to address local resource concerns; funding for the program is reduced from $1.8 billion/year to no greater than $1 billion, with the difference being rerouted to the EQIP, ACEP and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
The Conference Report provides $500 million for important conservation infrastructure initiatives that include flood prevention and watershed rehabilitation.
Title II also establishes the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program, in order to address the $1.5 billion in damages associated with these invasive species. The Title provides important revenues for the Voluntary Public Access Program and reauthorizes the Conservation of Private Grazing Land Program.
On balance, the Title provides a smarter allocation of scarce and useful conservation & environmental control resources while improving incentives for such resources to be effectively used as intended.
There is also policy progress along the lines of rural broadband, the opiate crisis, rural development and mental health care access in Title VI. Secretarial authority to make grants for rural broadband is expanded and standards thereof are improved for rural America. As pertains to rural health, the Conference Report increases resources for treatment quality and access and addresses record farmer suicide rates by reestablishing the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network.
Title VII provides important revenues for universities and research. The Conference Report provides new resources to strengthen the land‐grant university system.
Title VIII contains forestry provisions which enhance prevention and treatment of catastrophic wildfire. Insect and disease categorical exclusions to standard environmental review are renewed and expanded to expedite the removal of hazardous fuels from forests. Another categorical exclusion is added for federal land plots up to 4,500 acres for purposes of promoting Greater Sage Grouse and Mule Deer habitat. Good Neighbor Authority, whereby the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) may enter into cooperative forest management agreements with other entities, is expanded to authorize the USFS to enter into such agreements with counties and Indian Tribes. This adds several important, new tools to the USFS toolkit, improving their flexibility in addressing specific forest management problems.
Finally, the Title authorizes USFS to establish a privately-funded pilot program for utility infrastructure rights-of-way vegetation management, in which limited vegetation management near electricity infrastructure outside of a right of way can be employed in order to stave off wildfires started by contact between trees or vegetation and power lines.